Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Show #4: 7/4/99 Atlanta, Georgia

Highlights: Ya Mar, Vultures, Fast Enough for You, David Bowie, Slave to the Traffic Light,
Listen Here: Phan Reviews:


After  Phish seemed to veer away from the ambient style of jamming and transitions so prevalent in the first show of 1999, the band got back on track with this no frills 4th of July show from Atlanta.

It is clear from the outset that Trey means business - no fun and games tonight - and the audience benefits with a great setlist, intense jams, and masterful touches on otherwise standard set fodder (aside from the debut of What's The Use?). One of the most beautiful, patient takes on Fast Enough For You can be found in the first set of this show. After a scorching My Soul, Trey looks to move the boys in a different direction with a very ambient take on Ya Mar's jam and follows with fantastic ambient touches and sections in Vultures, Bowie, Ghost, Slave, Wilson and the debut of the ambient masterpiece "What's The Use?"

"What's The Use?" is the quintessential example of an ambient composition from a band who had spent the better part of two decades crafting precise musical songs and journeys. A stunning glimpse into the minds of artists who had been known for such attention to detail, comes a loose, oscillating and ever changing song with no real beginning or end. Almost the exact opposite of YEM or David Bowie, this new style of composed song with little structure seemed to be a cry for release from the band. An opportunity to play a song where every note and sound and texture is "right" and there are no mistakes. A song without a net... because there is nowhere to fall. The culmination of over two years of experimentation in the studio, and the centerpiece of "The Siket Disc," this song has grown to encapsulate this period of musical composition and experimentation for Phish. In 3.0 Phish, What's the Use? is the only song that has been played - even somewhat regularly given its rarity - from the Siket Disc. It is known from interviews that the band loves the Siket Disc album and counts it as the only one of their albums they have ever regularly listened to as a band together, so a return for other songs from that album may not be too far off (maybe only a few months away!). As the band puts songs together into setlists for 3.0 shows they often include music that spans their career - songs that represent eras to the band and their phans - and What's The Use? is the song that represents their foray into ambient music.

SET 1:  We find the first ambient jam of the show in the well placed Ya Mar (a great summer opener or second song). The Ya Mar jam is an even-tempered ambient jam that appears like steam rising from the crowd of hot sweaty southerners. The set builds slowly through standards until Vultures changes the pace and allows for a short but penetrating ambient jam with Trey directing through guitar bursts and fuzz. A top take on Fast Enough For You combines patience, soul, and a gorgeous solo - beauty in a often overlooked song - and just helps to cement that a standard setlist can make for an amazing show. A David Bowie with a great ambient jam and a fiery ending caps a perfect first set.

SET 2: Serious business when a set opens with loops and a Ghost, especially in 1999. A multi-layered ambient Ghost jam sets the tone for a second set full of highlights. Sirens, drones, staccato picking and tireless drumming build this Ghost into Slave with a perfect transition of swirling feedback and fuzz. The notes to Slave to the Traffic Light build and emerge in a slow but beautiful and meticulously crafted manner from the darkness of Ghost. The band lets the air out of the Ghost slowly, patiently, carefully as they fill the city and the zoo with funk. While the rest of the set has a solid, funky Mike's Groove and the ever-present 1999 Meatstick... plus a bonus Carini encore. The true highlight was the unveiling of "What's The Use?" in its live form. A sonic, ambient mindstorm all at once bringing feelings of universal forces, out of body experiences, deep crushing emotion and the envelopment of a sandstorm, while laying waste to everything around. The audience has no other choice but to let their collective jaw drop.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Show #3: 7/3/99 Atlanta, GA

Highlights: Gumbo, Tube, Taste, Twist, Harry Hood
Listen Here: Phan Reviews:

Are we headed down the wrong path?

The first of two shows in Atlanta, Georgia was built on a solid setlist, fun gags (Fishman as Little Drummer Boy and Page's dad with a kazoo), and a handful of good jams.... but the new ambient jam based songs from the newly released Siket Disc were missing and so were the spacy transitions and ambient accented jams that will grow to define the year.

In 3.0 Phish shows we have grown to expect short takes on Tube, Gumbo, Free, Mike's Song and AC/DC Bag, but that is not how it used to be... or even how it should be today. Some versions of those songs from 1999 have achieved legendary status (the 7/23/99 Free as a prime example), but even the seemingly pedestrian takes from 1999 out-muscle the best versions of these tunes since 2009.

Case-in-point - the highlights from this show aren't even highlight versions of these songs in 1999 but would probably be on some of the "best of 3.0" jams lists oft created by bloggers and phans today had this show been dropped sometime in the last three years.

SET 1: Trey sets up and drops a jagged, piercing loop from his Boomerang as the band gets ready for . "Here we go!" It seems to announce the intent to steer towards the ambient jam mood everyone was expecting, but it quickly is resolved by a standard-but-fiery CDT. The Gumbo from this show is a great example of the ole adage "they don't make em like they used to." This is a funky, extracted take without the modern piano outro. As platforms for greater things, the Gumbo and Tube from the first set of this show provide the much needed opportunity for Phish to get loose early - an aspect lost from most modern Phish shows. This version of Taste also lends itself to some creative space, but nothing too far outside the norm. Lost in this space is the space itself. Trey seems to be filling all the holes and plugging the gaps with riffs and chords, instead of letting the music breathe. The ambient backdrops and mechanical loops of '99 are missing, and the show as a whole suffers from this loss.... the song selection in this first set certainly lent itself to some great opportunities for exploration.
Chalkdust Torture

SET 2: The Twist > Piper is the bread and butter of this show for any ambient tinged jam segment, and honestly it still falls a little short. A funky MOMA Dance and a seething Antelope provide other highlights in an otherwise forgettable first night in Atlanta, while the Harry Hood encore does end the show on a positive note.... going into the 4th of July, the fireworks were yet to be displayed.

7/3/99 SETLIST
Soundcheck: What's the Use?, Rock A William, Wading in the Velvet Sea (x2)
Set 1: Chalk Dust Torture, Gumbo, Sparkle > Cavern, Taste, When the Circus Comes, Tube > Funky Bitch, NICU, Waste, Meatstick
Set 2: Twist[1] > Piper, The Moma Dance, Mountains in the Mist[2], Run Like an Antelope > Contact > The Little Drummer Boy
Encore: The Little Drummer Boy[3], Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home?[4]
Encore 2: Harry Hood

[1] Oye Como Va tease from Trey.
[2] Phish debut.
[3] Fishman performed Little Drummer Boy solo on the snare drum, with alternate lyrics.
[4] Dr. Jack McConnell on vocals and kazoo.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Show #2 of 1999: 7/1/99 Antioch, Tennessee

Highlights: Bluegrass Style First Set (one big highlight), DWD, YEM
Listen Here:

1999 is Full of Unique Phish Shows. 

On the heels of a brilliant ambient jam-filled show in Bonner Springs, Kansas, Phish seemingly spun 180 degrees in the opposite direction and proceeded to drop the Antioch, Tennessee bluegrass tinged gem of a concert. A stunning collection of country and bluegrass influenced takes on heavy tour rotations and a smattering of special guests from the Tennessee hills seemed to take over the first set of this show. The second set - free of special guests - was a bit more experimental but brief due to extremely violent summer storms that enveloped the venue (even folks in the pavilion were getting soaked).

This blog is currently tasked with rating 1999 shows based upon how they fall on the "ambient jam grading scale," and thus every GREAT show might not necessarily score well for ambient style jams. This is a prime example of a Phish concert that is extremely unique - and should be heard by all Phans - but that does not necessarily fit the overall theme of 1999's sonic explorations. The guest sit-ins during the first set of this show are really spectacular - Jerry Douglas on dobro, Ronnie McCoury on mandolin, Tim O'Brien on fiddle (and vocals) and Gary Gazaway on trumpet.
 SET I:  From the dobro filled jam of Wolfman's Brother, to the spectacular hoe-down of Poor Heart, this set is filled with country, roots-rock, and bluegrass flavors that totally fill the void that Phish often creates in their songs and jams. At some points you may say to yourself - "This is exactly what Phish is missing!" - but you will realize by the end of the second set that Phish is not missing anything.

SET 2: A 3 song set with a 1 song encore. That's it folks. Dropping the all too common Down With Disease opener for the second set, it is evident the band was feeling the pressure of the inclement weather and was anxious to get to the centerpiece jam of the night. Trey blazed through the initial solo with precision, intent and fire-wrought licks while the band did its best to stay on pace with the guitar virtuoso. Anastasio spent almost 6 minutes of the initial jam putting on a clinic before descending into what is the only ambient jam of section of a jam seen throughout the night. As the band lets the jam descend into a feedback drenched chaos, Trey layers his guitar with the similar effects of the My Left Toe jam from Kansas on 6/30/99. The ambient jam builds for a couple minutes before Trey returns to the signature DWD guitar lick and the band returns for the final stanza of the song. The Prince Caspian that follows is delicate and beautiful in its own way - a definite must-hear for fans of the mighty water dweller. The You Enjoy Myself is a funky throw down harkening the Fall of '97 and expansive in a way that modern YEM jams fail to achieve. No ambient jam in this classic take on YEM, but it certainly isn't needed as this one speaks for itself.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Show #1 of 1999: 6/30/99 Bonner Springs, Kansas

Highlights: Bathtub Gin, Maze, LXL, Free, My Left Toe, Stash
Listen Here:

The Bonner Springs, Kansas Phish Summer Tour opener was the declaration that Phish's new phase of "ambient jamming" was the focus of 1999.

To set the scene.... The June 30th concert was the first official Phish show of 1999, but a number of performances by individual or group side projects as well as private shows had already taken place (Including the 'Carreystock' show with actor Jim Carrey). Similar to 2013, the Phans were anxiously awaiting Summer Tour to start after a great deal of anticipation had been building for the "kind" of Phish that would be unveiled after such an amazing Spring season of artistic collaboration.
The first six months of 1999 were busy for Phish band members. Trey had formed the "Trio" and toured for the first time that Spring as a solo artist. Trey and Page had joined Phil Lesh for the first run of "Phil and Friends" shows during the ides of April - in what could only be hailed as the most prolific collaboration among The Grateful Dead and Phish in history. Jon Fishman had been working with the Jamie Masefield led Jazz Mandolin Project. Mike Gordon was busy working on his film "Outside Out" with Col. Bruce Hampton of ARU.

<  Trey & Phil Lesh
rehearsing at the 
Warfield in SF

Jon Fishman & Jamie Masefield  >
with Jazz Mandolin Project           

6/30/99 SET I
The Bonner Springs, Kansas show opens with a BANG!  A huge Bathtub Gin with full band exploration and an ambient jam that enveloped the venue in a haze of mixed rhythmic signatures, gorgeous varied loops, and beautiful themes from Trey on guitar and Page on the baby grand piano. This Bathtub Gin ambient jam never goes fully off the edge of the world into polyphonic disarray, but seems to bridge the melodic jams Phish is known for crafting through its live improvisation with the new backdrop of fuzz, feedback and "wall of sound" alien effects from Page. The last 7 minutes of this Gin Jam are truly mesmerizing. Standard set filler gets us to a strong Maze with Trey using his drone based feedback loop to build the transitions and backdrops throughout the song. A nice touch using this new ambient style, but no full blown out jam. The Limb X Limb that followed Maze has a lovely melodic jam with some beautiful solo work through the jam and back into the coda. Quite lovely touches by Page and Trey at the end of this nearly 12 minute LXL, but nothing remotely close to the ambience of the Bathtub Gin opener.

6/30/99 SET 2
Opening with a Squirming Coil seems a bit strange, but was clearly meant as a warmup for what was to become a set full of the band's new ideas into sonic exploration. The end of the Squirming Coil piano solo culminates with a feedback buildup and the sonic texturing that Trey had been using throughout transitions in the first set. The buildup bled into a monster Free that carries the same feedback  touches throughout the intro as Trey pushed the band to carry that new spark throughout the set. The superb Free jam that emerged found Gordon and Fishman providing a strong backbone and beat for Trey's droning and feedback loops on top of Page's alien landscapes. While the bass and drums steer the beat away from complete ambient bliss, the work of Trey and Page to pull the psychedelic backdrop to the forefront creates a Free jam that is jaw dropping. The set rolls on through a seque-fest of Birds of a Feather > Simple > Swept Away > Steep > Piper with various ambient flourishes to carry the torch until unleashing the first ever My Left Toe. This 9+ minute MLT (a track originally recorded at 4min 47sec) is a gorgeous ambient musical display which Phish crafts with reckless abandon and intense precision. A culmination of three years worth of work on the Siket Disc, and finally an opportunity to display this new masterpiece has resulted in near perfection. While vastly different than any song publicly played by Phish in the past (at least any song with an actual name), MLT evokes amazing images and emotions in a musical onslaught to every nerve and every synapse. It both attacks you and lifts you floating to the heavens. At the time, many Phans were unsure what to make of this new style and direction, but upon further review it is clear that Phish was developing a genre perfected by bands like Radiohead years later. Listening to the show again on, it is evident by the crowd reaction that Phans are blown away by the new song and an almost unheard of late second set stunned silence falls over the crowd... Page breaks the silence to announce unceremoniously, "that was the first song off our new album, it's called My Left Toe."

A nice Stash with a slightly ambient jam at the end closes out the show, as a casual fan friendly encore wrapped up the evening.

All in all a terrific debut for Phish in 1999 and a sign of the amazing things to come for the band in this oft overlooked, but seminal, year of creative exploration in music.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Discovering the Phish Ambient Phase of 1999

Phish's "glory years" have always been pinned to the era of the mid 1990's. The ferocity of playing in 1994 & 1995, the expanded exploration in 1996, the "cow funk" of 1997, and the loop jams of 1998 have long been the sought after shows for listeners and collectors. Those attending shows in the era came to love the unexpected - not knowing what Phish would do next was the suction to the vacuum. Brand new material, first time played covers, unfinished songs, monster segues and overly extended jams (all things that Phans beg for in 3.0) were the show-to-show norm. Then came 1999...

In 1999, a new Phish seemingly emerged from the phased out delay loop jams of swirling high pitched circular patterns and slow building funk. The end of 1998 showed signs of a more dissonant type of jam, an "ambient style," that was either a telltale of the future or an exercise in ambivalence on stage. The band changed the stage setup for the first time in their career: Trey moved to the far side stage left (Fishman's reg spot), Fishman moved toward the center (Gordon's reg spot), Gordon moved closest to Page (Trey's reg spot), and Page stayed in the same spot but moved his piano and keyboards into a different arrangement.

                                                                Image: 7/7/1999 Charlotte (

The band seemed poised to take their music to the next level, but not necessarily in the direction that Phans had expected. At the time, the general consensus among Phans was that Phish was going to create more defined "space like" jams with richer (more modern) keyboard sounds, clearer more unique guitar loops and riffs, disco "untz-like" rhythms from Fishman, and bigger bass bombs with more effects (as Mike had been going through a personal phase of adding and defining his tones for certain songs and jams). The band had a different idea altogether.

In March of 1999, the final "Album Masters" were completed on The Siket Disc. The Siket Disc is an album of little note to most Phish fans, but of great influence on the band itself. Mike Gordon has said in interviews that the Siket Disc is the only Phish album that the band itself regularly listened to as a group (Cohen, Jonathan. Phish Swims Again Billboard. December 21, 2002). Frequently playing the album as after party music backstage and on the tour buses in 1999 and 2000.

Engineered and mixed by John Siket after recording March 11-15 and September 29-October 2, 1997 at Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, NY, The Siket Disc is the only all instrumental Phish studio album ever released. After being mixed in October 1998, the album was finally mastered by Bob Ludwig at Gateway Studios in March of 1999. The "Compilation and Digital Editing" of this album was done by keyboardist Page McConnell himself... clearly a sign that this album "3-years in the making" was a labor of love for the band.

Phish seized the moment and attempted to recapture the ambient jams and sounds that inspired The Siket Disc during rehearsals for their upcoming tour. They relearned and practiced a number of the songs from the album that would be played throughout 1999 with the heaviest hitters "What's the Use?" and "My Left Toe" getting the most attention. More important than the emergence of these songs was the spark that ignited a full blown change in jamming style. Gone were the circular delay loops over cow funk beats, while fuzzy, feedback-drenched loops with artistic rhythmic signatures provided the backdrop to new sonic landscapes for the band. The "Ambient Jam" phase of Phish was fully realized.

1999 is often considered the "lost year" of Phish. The bulk of Phans at the time had little use for these bleak sonic landscapes and seemingly aimless jams. Looking back, many of us wish this "phase" had lasted longer and given us a greater vault from which to draw new ideas and inspiration. In the coming weeks and months I will be reviewing ALL of the 1999 concerts and rating them on an "Ambient Jam" scale of 1-10. The higher the number, the higher level of "Ambient Jamming" prevalent in that show. By definition, all ambient jamming is Type 2, but these jams are far different than almost every other Type 2 style of jamming in Phish history. I wish to inspire greater interest in the "lost year" and hope that Phish chooses to release the remixed soundboards of these sonically extraordinary concerts. The culmination of my review of 1999 will be a full blown "Ambient Jam" scale review of Big Cypress and NYE 1999/2000.

Tá Ceol Saol,


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Welcome, this is The Farmhouse...

I have long been interested in providing interesting analysis of one of the world's best and oft overlooked bands - Phish. While I have been listening and following Phish musically since 1992, I did not attend my first Phish concert until Fall 1997. I walked into a the Cleveland State University Convocation Center and my life was forever changed: hundreds of balloons, a cloud of smoke and the erratically funky beat to the song Ghost welcomed me to my new home.

I will be focusing this blog initially on the various phases of Phish's live music that helped shape the way I experienced the world; in hopes that others may too share these memories or be inspired to start their own musical journey. I will not be going in chronological order - as many critics choose to do - but rather to jump around and focus on the different Era's of Phish and the phases that have so defined the last 30 years of their storied career.

As my first post, I leave you with some of the most recent Phish lyrics to touch the hearts and minds of so many Phans. This is the final couplet of "Steam" lyrics by Trey Anastasio and Tom Marshall:

Now you forever sing your song,  with the wolves where you belong
Now quite alone I often dream, I hear you singing through the steam

Ceol Saol,